Albert Woon stood at the entrance of Kohl’s in Torrance on Sunday morning, watching with a smile as 73 kids came surging through the doors at 7 a.m.
“This is the best part. It’s great to see the excitement when they come through the doors,” he said.
Staff had been hard at work three hours earlier, prepping the store for the Sandpipers back-to-school shopping event, which the Torrance Kohl’s has sponsored for the past nine years.
Though the store isn’t typically open until 9 a.m., this morning it was buzzing with activity long before, with kids from three to 12 years old cutting a swath through clothing and shoes with joyful abandon. Some youngsters, shy and unsure, were ambivalent about leaving Mom for the prospect of new treasures. Soon enough they were careening away with equal enthusiasm as their parents nursed hot cups of coffee outside.
The volunteer-run Sandpipers is celebrating its 85th year in the South Bay, serving through philanthropic and charitable programs that benefit the community and other nonprofits. In the last year, the group has contributed $450,000 and thousands of hours of community service. In its 17th year, the back to school shopping event is a favorite among the volunteers and families alike.
“It’s very rewarding to participate as a volunteer of the event and see how Sandpipers are making a difference in the lives of those who are working to overcome struggles,” Jeanne Bray, vice president for the Sandpipers, said. “Particularly individuals who are members of our own community.”
Kohl’s offers shoppers a 20 percent discount and eliminates the sales tax, which makes the dollars stretch a little further and lets the kids buy a little more loot.
“We’re so lucky with Kohl’s. They open early for us, and they above and beyond to make it special for the kids,” volunteer Sarah Winfrey said.“It’s like a holiday for these kids—and a relief for the parents.”
The sun wasn’t even quite over the horizon when the kids started showing up —with sleepy parents in tow. Each child had been referred from nine local nonprofit partner agencies, and was pre-selected for the event. After registration, the kids were paired up with a Sandpiper or Sandpiper Junior volunteer to assist with finding new school clothes, shoes and uniforms.
“I’m absolutely terrified to let them do their own shopping,” laughed Chantele Facer, whose two boys, Michael and Travis, were both chosen for the program. “But they’re excited. They were up and out of bed this morning, ready to go before I was.”
A stay-at-home mom with a family of five, Facer was wondering how she was going to manage new clothes for her fast-sprouting sons, age 9 and 7—one a bookworm, one an athlete, and both having decidedly different tastes in clothing and styles. She heard about the Sandpiper program through the South Bay Child Health Center, and was thrilled when both sons were selected. Her boys begin their new school year Aug. 29.
“So this was just in time,” she said.
At the end of the checkout line, Sandpipers’ surprised children with backpacks stuffed to the seams. Filled with notebooks, pens, pencils, highlighters, and other supplies to start off the school year, children also picked up new lunchboxes with supplied and snacks. The two were donated by the Xerox Corporation and assembled by company employees.
Excited to show off their purchases, Michael and Travis made a beeline for their mother and eagerly began pulling hoodies, jeans, shirts and shoes out of their shopping bags, while a beaming Facer complimented their choices.
“They did a good job!” she said. “I’m really happy; they got some really nice things.”